Automatic bill pay is yet another perk of the ever-evolving instantaneous Internet age. Many consumers take advantage of this convenient, rewarding way of paying bills. Others remain wary about authorizing a company to withdraw funds directly from their bank account on a recurring, specific date. They may be missing out: Automatic bill pay is a quick and safe way to hand off a mundane chore and save money at the same time.
Today, some major service providers (e.g., certain utilities, insurance companies, lenders to students) offer incentives for enrolling in these programs. With a few simple steps, you can authorize recurring transactions and begin to count the savings – not huge, mind you, but the dollars add up.
Discounts and Credits.
Automatic payment plans are a win-win for the company and its customers. Companies like them because they ensure that balances due are received promptly and on time. Participating consumers often benefit through monthly discounts or credits. Allstate, for example, offers a discount for enrolling in automatic bill pay. Known as the Easy Pay Plan, it entitles customers to a rate cut worth up to 5 percent on some policies and lower fees for installment payments. Cricket Wireless, a prepaid cellphone provider, offers a $5 monthly credit as an inducement to enroll (and remain) in automatic bill pay.
Avoid Late Fees.
Automatic bill pay also saves customers from pesky, and sometimes onerous, late fees. Because the balance owed is deducted from your bank account every month on or before the due date, you eliminate the risk of incurring late fees, reactivation fees, and interest charges because you didn't mail the check far enough in advance or simply forgot to. Capital One, the credit card company, penalizes customers up to $35 for late payments; Sprint charges a hefty $36 reconnection fee for services that are terminated because the bill wasn't paid. Most service providers maintain similar policies. As long as you're enrolled in a recurring payment plan, the chances of missing a payment and incurring a penalty are nearly zero.
Bypass Payment Service Fees.
Companies that use third parties to process electronic payments typically charge a small convenience fee. And while these fees usually hover in the $5 to $10 range, and seem relatively harmless, they are unnecessary additions to your bill. For example, Santander Consumer USA, an auto financing company, relies on Western Union to process online payments, which results in a $10.95 service fee; online payments to Duke Energy Progress are routed through EZ Pay and incur a convenience fee of $9.95. You can bypass these extraneous charges by enrolling in an automatic payment plan. Doing so almost always ensures that no charges are assessed when paying a bill.
Enrolling and Dropping Out.
Enrolling and withdrawing from an automatic bill pay plan is a piece of cake. A phone call or online authorization typically completes the enrollment process. Some companies require a written notice to un-enroll and advise that the request be submitted well in advance, especially if the bank account is being closed or the number is changing.
Peace of Mind.
Companies generally understand customers' anxiety about automatic payments and often send regular reminders before the payment is deducted. Some also give customers the option to chose or change their withdrawal date. These features are meant to encourage new and existing customers to switch to auto bill pay.
And Finally ...
Any money saved by signing on for automatic bill payments -- even just $5 a month for each of several recurring obligations -- is money you can allocate to paying those bills, sticking to a budget
, adding to your piggy bank, or occasionally splurging on yourself. And think of all the time gained by not having to write out checks or manually process online payments, as well as the pennies saved on postage. Just remember to keep track of all the deductions so you're not surprised by the shrinking balance in your bank account.